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In re J.A.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

August 2, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF J.A. and M.K., Minor Children, K.S.K., Mother, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Dallas County, Virginia Cobb, District Associate Judge.

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to two children.

          Gina E. Verdoorn of Sporer & Flanagan, Des Moines, for appellant mother.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Ana Dixit, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Kayla Stratton of Juvenile Public Defender's Office, Des Moines, guardian ad litem for minor children.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Tabor and Mullins, JJ.

          TABOR, Judge.

         A mother, Kathryn, appeals the juvenile court's decision to terminate her parental rights to two children, three-year-old J.A. and two-year-old M.K. She challenges the sufficiency of the State's proof of the statutory grounds for termination and contends termination is not in the best interests of the children. After independently reviewing the record, we find clear and convincing evidence the children cannot be safely returned to Kathryn's care and termination is in their best interests.[1]

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         This family first came to the attention of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) in the summer of 2014 after Kathryn filed a domestic-abuse petition against the father, Johnnie.[2] The DHS had concerns about the continuing domestic violence perpetrated by Johnnie and about the parents' drug use around the children. The juvenile court ordered J.A. to be removed from his parents' custody due to these concerns.[3]

         The DHS placed J.A. in foster care in August 2014. Kathryn began mental-health treatment that same month at the recommendation of the DHS. A few months after she began therapy, she and Johnnie were married. The juvenile court adjudicated J.A. a child in need of assistance (CINA) in November 2014.

         Kathryn was generally consistent with therapy for the next two years, but she discontinued treatment in October 2016. Kathryn worked with a therapist on issues concerning domestic violence. The therapist testified Kathryn was "a natural caregiver" and would often get "sucked back" into a dangerous relationship with Johnnie when he needed help due to his mental-health and substance-abuse issues. The therapist believed Kathryn was eventually able to identify these triggers, and the two of them explored strategies for Kathryn to leave Johnnie safely. The therapist did not note any substance-abuse problems at the beginning of Kathryn's therapy. Kathryn confided she had an "addiction" to the relationship with Johnnie rather than to controlled substances.

         Kathryn and Johnnie participated in services provided by the DHS and moved to semi-supervised visits in March 2015. The juvenile court held a review hearing the following month and found Kathryn and Johnnie were making progress. J.A. returned to his parents' care in mid-April for a trial home visit.

         The progress Kathryn and Johnnie exhibited in the months after J.A. was adjudicated a CINA stalled near the end of his first trial home visit. Kathryn, who was pregnant with M.K. at the time, testified she stopped living with Johnnie in June 2015. According to Kathryn, Johnnie had threatened to hurt her, so she decided to leave him. This incident of domestic violence resulted in another ...


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